Pres. Trump at the 2019 National Prayer Breakfast, with co-chairs Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), who objected last week to electoral-vote counting, and, on the right, Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE).

 

(Image: Screengrab from C-SPAN video.)

Bankrolling the Insurrection

Prayer Breakfast Leaders Backed Trump's Election Lies

Leaders of the National Prayer Breakfast donated to Pres. Trump, and to Republican candidates who supported Trump, even after he began claiming that the election had been stolen, campaign filings show.

A GOP megadonor with ties to both Trump and to the secretive Christian group behind the breakfast gave heavily in the Georgia Senate runoffs. Another breakfast leader, who played a role in the Maria Butina scandal, donated directly to Trump’s efforts to overturn the election. Republican breakfast co-chairs also supported Trump's efforts; at least one objected to Congress counting Arizona's Electoral College votes.

A trade group where GOP megadonor Ron Cameron’s company wields influence also donated to the Republican runoff efforts and to Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL). Several big corporations have suspended donations to Tuberville, Lankford, and other members of Congress who had objected to counting Electoral College votes.

The prayer breakfast is an annual, ostensibly non-partisan, Washington ritual run by the Fellowship Foundation, also known as The Family. The Family has figured into multiple scandals and was the subject of a 2019 Netflix documentary series based on the work of journalist Jeff Sharlet.

In the wake of reporting by Sharlet, TYT, and others, Democratic engagement with the breakfast appears to have waned. Last year, Trump used the breakfast podium to call his political enemies — presumably Democrats — “very dishonest and corrupt people” who had done “everything possible to destroy us."

After the 2020 elections, Sens. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) and then-Sen. David Perdue (R-GA), amplified Trump’s false claims that led to violence by his supporters, some of whom carried Christian banners into the Capitol.

Loeffler announced beforehand that she would object to Congress counting her own state’s electoral votes. She changed her mind after the attack.

Perdue and Loeffler began echoing Trump’s falsehoods almost immediately after Election Day. On Nov. 9, the two senators issued a joint statement calling on Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to step down because he “failed to deliver honest and transparent elections.”

During one debate, Loeffler refused to challenge Trump’s claims about the election. She and Perdue also announced their support for a Texas lawsuit seeking to block Congress from counting the Electoral College votes of four states Biden won, including Georgia.

In a statement, Perdue said, “I continue to stand with” Trump. Loeffler in early January tweeted video of Trump at a Georgia rally saying “our mission” is to ensure that “the radical left cannot rob you of your voice and your votes in Washington.”

Two days after they called for Raffensperger’s resignation, Cameron gave Loeffler $2800 and Perdue $5600.

Then, on Nov. 25, Cameron contributed $50,000 to the Georgia United Victory political action committee (PAC), which was supporting both Perdue and Loeffler and got about half of its warchest from Loeffler’s husband. On Dec. 2, Cameron gave $106,500 to another PAC supporting the two senators, the Georgia Battleground Fund, a joint fundraising committee with the National Republican Senate Committee (NRSC).

The Georgia Battleground Fund produced multiple ads featuring Sen. Maj. Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who only acknowledged Pres.-elect Joe Biden’s victory, but not its legitimacy, on Dec. 15. Two days before Christmas, the Georgia Battleground Fund released a Facebook ad in which Donald Trump, Jr., a prominent cheerleader for his father’s lies, urged viewers to “help save Georgia and America.”

(Back in February, Cameron also gave $248,500 to the Trump Victory PAC, along with $200 to the campaign itself. The donations came one week after Trump’s partisan remarks at that year’s prayer breakfast.)

Unlike Cameron, Doug Burleigh has been a public face for the breakfast and The Family, speaking at the breakfast, giving occasional interviews, and representing The Family overseas. Burleigh and his wife gave $300 to two Republican committees on Nov. 6 and 7, after the election was over.

One-hundred and 50 dollars went to the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, which by then had switched gears to support Trump’s false claims about the election. The rest went to the NRSC, which was then focusing on the Georgia runoff.

Burleigh’s affinity for Trump has been reported before. And in 2019 TYT revealed that he was affiliated with a Washington state Christian group that had strong ties to The Family and had disclosed unspecified expenses in its tax filings related to Russian attendance at the 2017 prayer breakfast. It was Burleigh who gave Russian operative Maria Butina ten tickets for the 2017 breakfast and who was referenced, though not named, in an FBI affidavit about Butina’s activities.

The Family, however, has never identified the source of the funds used to facilitate Russian attendance at the breakfast.

Cameron is not only a past board member of the foundation, he has donated millions of dollars over the years, most notably through his own nonprofit, the Jesus Fund, which is funded by both Cameron and his poultry company, Mountaire. (The Jesus Fund’s money trail has been obscured in recent years, as TYT reported, since Cameron began funneling its donations through the National Christian Foundation, which reportedly facilitates anonymous donations to right-wing groups, some of them considered hate groups.)

Cameron’s son-in-law, Kevin Garland, is not only Mountaire’s CEO, on Oct. 29, he was named secretary-treasurer of the National Chicken Council, an industry trade group that often counts Mountaire executives among its leadership. The council’s PAC routinely receives donations from Mountaire executives, including Dabbs Cavin, a member and past president of The Family’s board. (Garland previously worked for the financial services firm that handles the Jesus Fund’s investments.)

In November, the poultry group’s PAC made three political donations of $5000 each; first to Tuberville the day after Election Day and then, on Nov. 6, to Loeffler and Perdue. It was the first time the PAC had donated to any of them.

But The Family has been controversial for years. Pres. Obama was criticized by gay rights groups for attending the breakfast in spite of allegations about The Family’s connection to anti-gay legislation in Uganda.

And The Family’s standing among Democrats has become more tenuous lately, especially since the 2017 death of longtime leader Doug Coe, a confidant of leaders in both parties. Democratic hesitancy about the breakfast was heightened further by questions about The Family’s role in the Russia scandal.

Reps. Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Ted Lieu (D-CA) opted out of the 2019 breakfast in the wake of TYT’s reporting on Cameron’s role in The Family and the payments for Russian attendance. TYT had previously reported that The Family paid for congressional Republicans to travel overseas for meetings with anti-gay leaders in Europe.

Last year, while running for president, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) did not participate in the breakfast, despite having been a prominent supporter in prior years.

Even the foundation’s most reliable Democratic ally in recent years, Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), has wavered. Coons has declined to answer questions from TYT about The Family, but in brief remarks while leaving the 2019 breakfast, told TYT he was concerned about “the perception” of partisanship. Last year, he took a rare public stance against Cameron’s company, which makes its home in Coons’ home state of Delaware.

In June, TYT revealed that Coons’ biggest donor, a Delaware law firm, was representing Mountaire in a bid to decertify the union, which was also battling Mountaire over its response to the coronavirus. Although Cameron funds Republicans all over the country, he has never gone after Coons. In fact, Coons has been one of the few Democrats to receive donations from the National Chicken Council.

After TYT reported that Coons was staying silent while a union battled his biggest donor, Coons showed up at a union rally and denounced the practices of Cameron’s company.

(Coons’ 2019 breakfast co-chair and frequent legislative partner, Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), was one of the first senators to announce he would object to counting electoral votes. Lankford was objecting to counting Arizona's votes when the Senate chamber was evacuated. He dropped his objection after the attack and on Thursday released a statement apologizing to his constituents of color for perpetuating “doubt on the validity of votes coming out of predominantly Black communities." The 2020 Republican co-chair, Rep. John Moolenaar (R-MI) supported the Texas lawsuit but ultimately did not object to the electoral count.)

Although the breakfast is traditionally held on the first Thursday of February, that has not been confirmed publicly for this year. The Religion News Service reported that the 2021 breakfast will be held virtually.

The breakfast is typically co-chaired by one member from each party, but it’s not clear whether The Family has named this year’s co-chairs. Foundation spokesperson A. Larry Ross, who sits on the foundation’s board and gave Trump $100 last summer, did not respond to questions or to a request for a copy of this year’s invitation.

Mountaire, the National Chicken Council, and Coons also did not immediately respond to questions and requests for comment.

Jonathan Larsen is TYT’s managing editor. You can find him on Twitter @JTLarsen.

With additional research and reporting by TYT Investigates News Assistant Zoltan Lucas and Intern Jamia Zarzuela, and assistance from members of the TYT Army.

If you have tips on this subject or others you can contact us using Proton Mail at [email protected]. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to stay on top of exclusive news stories from The Young Turks.

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